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Back under the lights on Friday nights

By By Marty Stamper / EMG sports assistant
Aug. 29, 2003
Finally, that time of year has arrived.
Enjoy it while you can.
It seems like more and more people each year look forward to the opening of football season and this year's edition has a full slate of local games tonight.
Granted, some area teams played last night and many of the academy leaguers opened their 2003 seasons last week. But tonight, that newborn baby known as Football 2003 begins growing up in a hurry.
Meridian, the only remaining Class 5A school in this part of the state, opens at home with the Clinton Arrows. The two aren't used to playing each other as Meridian was in the Big Eight Conference in the olden days, while Clinton was a member of the Little Dixie Conference.
While Meridian's scores can be traced back as far as 1914, the two didn't square off until the opening round of the 1987 Class 5A state playoffs when the Arrows took a 6-0 victory at Clinton.
In Class 4A, Jim Ray tries to resurrect a Neshoba Central program that's gone 2-8 in both of the last two seasons under Ray. The Rockets host Aberdeen, a program that Neshoba has beaten in nine of 10 previous meetings, with the lone loss coming last year.
Louisville, which is expected to make some noise in 4A this fall, makes its debut with Joe Gant running the show when the Wildcats travel to Starkville in a battle of traditionally strong programs.
Also in 4A action, the defending 5A state champion Wayne County War Eagles begin another state title quest at Columbus. Leading the Falcons is former Newton head coach Roy McCrory, who went 29-17 at Newton from 1993-96.
Quitman hosts Heidelberg and Northeast Lauderdale hosts Northwest Rankin in other 4A action.
In Class 3A, Division 5-3A should be a well-balanced league this year with several teams capable of taking the title that Newton County has owned for each of the last four years. And nobody passed a law saying the Cougars can't win it again this year either.
A big non-division battle takes place on the Choctaw Reservation outside Philadelphia when Choctaw Central hosts Philadelphia with each school having a new head coach. There's no better way to start a career at a new school than by beating a rival. Just watch the winner's bandwagon grow following the game. For a week anyway.
Newton County travels to Kosciusko and Southeast Lauderdale goes to Enterprise in other games.
The Southeast-Enterprise contest revives an old Sam Dale Conference rivalry. The two haven't met since 2000 with Enterprise holding a solid 23-8 series advantage. The two met in the second game of each season from 1964-77.
In 2A play, a dandy is set for Newton when the Tigers host Forest and former Tiger coach Brad Peterson. Kemper County hosts West Lowndes in a pair of teams recently down on their luck.
In Class 1A, league games are already the order of the day with Union hosting Noxapater, Nanih Waiya visiting defending 1A state champion Puckett, Sebastopol hosting Pisgah, and Scott Central hosting Edinburg.
In academy action, defending Class A state champion Heidelberg goes to Lamar, Leake hosts Indianola, Kemper hosts Rebul, Newton goes to Calhoun, Wayne travels to Hattiesburg to face Presbyterian Christian, Winston goes to Simpson, and Sylva-Bay hosts Hebron Christian.
If you just like high school football and don't have any big loyalty, one of the best pairings in the state has defending Class 2A state champion Taylorsville paying a call on defending Class 3A state champion Collins.
Just remember, this is the week where nearly everybody is still undefeated and hopes are still high. The harsh reality of September and October has yet to set in for a lot of teams. That will come soon enough.
But for tonight, enjoy the teams, the coaches, the bands, the cheerleaders and all the goodies that come from the return of football season.
And let them know how much you appreciate the hard work they've put in during the summer to keep us entertained.